The German government has put the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on ice in the wake of Russia's decision to recognize separatists in eastern Ukraine, in one of the most significant international punishments inflicted so far on Moscow.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin on Tuesday that a key document required for the certification of the completed pipeline - measuring more than 1,200 kilometres through the Baltic Sea - would be withdrawn, making it impossible for it to be put into operation.
Putin had committed, Scholz said, "a severe breach of international law" by recognizing two separatist territories in Ukraine as independent of Kiev, as well as tearing up the UN Charter and the Minsk peace agreement for the region.
Scholz said that he had asked the Economy Ministry to reassess the multibillion-euro pipeline. There had been, he wrote on Twitter, "a dramatic change in the situation."
"I have asked our Economic Affairs Ministry to conduct a new analysis of the security of the energy supply. Under the present circumstances, certification is not possible," he wrote.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the move.
"This is a morally, politically and practically correct step in the current circumstances. True leadership means tough decisions in difficult times. Germany’s move proves just that," Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Moscow 'not afraid'
In response to the suspension of the certification process, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said that "Moscow is not afraid of anything," according to the Interfax news agency.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Tuesday that officials had been preparing for the move over the past weeks and months.
He also warned there was a possibility of rising gas prices in the short term in the wake of the sudden escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Before the latest developments in Ukraine, Scholz had come under criticism for refusing to say explicitly whether he would scrap the pipeline in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In contrast, US President Joe Biden vowed during Scholz's recent visit to Washington that he would "bring an end to" Nord Stream 2 if Russia were to invade Ukraine.
The German government, under conservative former chancellor Angela Merkel, had long insisted that the pipeline was an international business venture, and not a political project.
The calls for Germany to put a halt to Nord Stream 2 grew immediately louder in the hours after Russian recognized two eastern Ukrainian regions as independent from Kiev.
A double pipeline
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said early on Tuesday that “we have got to make sure that we cut the umbilicus, we snip the drip feed into our bloodstream from Nord Stream,” according to the PA news agency.
Nord Stream 2 would link Western Europe with Russian gas reserves via a double pipeline off Germany's Baltic coast, effectively bypassing an existing gas transit route via Ukraine.
According to the company in charge of the project, it could, in theory, transport enough gas to supply 26 million households.
The construction phase of the project was completed in September, but regulatory certification was still pending in Germany, meaning no gas was flowing.
With Scholz's announcement on Tuesday, that certification process has now effectively been halted.
Also stopped on Tuesday was the work of a foundation based in the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that was funded by Nord Stream.
The foundation was originally set up with the aim of supporting enterprises doing business with Nord Stream despite US sanctions. It had received €20 million from Nord Stream, and €200,000 from the local government.
The German federal government will conduct emergency consultations on the Ukraine crisis on Wednesday.